photo August Sander, c. 1930
Understanding medical and disability implications is essential for getting to
know students, planning effective instruction and providing the right level of
classroom support. The critical information is not necessarily what the medical
conditions or disabilities are, but rather how they impact a student’s learning,
social/emotional behaviour and the classroom environment.
Students with little or no functional vision for learning are considered
educationally blind and primarily use Braille, tactile (e.g., raised maps) and
audio resources to access instructional materials. Many of these students may
have some residual vision, which can provide cues to enhance tactile learning or
access to information. This can be an advantage in such tasks as learning to
travel independently around the school. Students who have residual vision should
receive specific instruction and practice in the effective use of this vision to
help them develop an optimal level of visual efficiency.
Visual acuity is measured by comparing one's ability to identify symbols of
various sizes viewed at a given distance (6 metres/20 feet). A normal visual
acuity is 6/6 or 20/20. Near vision is measured in a similar manner using a test
distance of 16 inches or 40 centimetres. Visual field is measured in degrees.
The term 'legally blind' is sometimes used to identify people with a severe vision
loss. An individual is considered legally blind if central visual acuity is 6/60
(20/200) or less in the better eye, even with corrective lenses or if the visual
field is restricted to a diameter of 20 degrees or less. Only 1 in 10 people,
who are legally blind, see nothing at all.
Implications for Planning and Awareness
>>> Your awareness needs to begin with conversations with the student’s parents.
- Meet with the student, parents and the student's previous classroom teachers to
discuss necessary supports for the student. This could include information
the student's learning strengths and routine required accommodations
how to access textbooks and instructional materials in alternate formats (e.g.,
the technology and special equipment used by the student
instructional strategies that enhance access to information
the procedure to make peers aware of vision loss and its implications.
- Learn as much as you can about how vision loss may affect learning and social
and emotional well-being. Reading, asking questions and talking to qualified
professionals, such as a teacher of the visually impaired and/or an orientation
and mobility instructor.
- Arrange (prior to the first day of school) for a teacher of the visually
impaired or an orientation and mobility instructor to orient the student to the
classroom, to any areas of the school that will be used by the student, and to
locations for catching buses.
- Learn the correct way to act as a sighted guide for the student and teach this
method to peers.
- Review previous functional vision assessments and eye care specialist reports to
find out specific information about the student's vision.
- Speak to the student
and/or teachers of the visually impaired about accommodations that enhance the
use of residual vision, thereby improving access to instruction.
- Review recent assessments to identify current instructional levels and any areas
requiring individualized instruction.
- Collaborate with school staff, the school jurisdictional team and community
partners to identify and coordinate supports and services required to address
the nine areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum for students with visual
- compensatory and functional academic skills (e.g., Braille reading, keyboarding,
tactile discrimination skills)
orientation and mobility
social interaction skills
independent living and management skills
recreation and leisure skills
career and life management skills
visual efficiency skills
- Develop a system for sharing information with relevant staff members about the
student's vision loss, abilities, instructional needs and successful strategies.
Implications for Instruction
- Organize instruction to include the use of concrete teaching methods, stressing
the relationship among things in the environment.
- Review basic concepts prior to the presentation of a lesson. Incidental learning
is significantly limited for a student who is blind. Even if the student is
familiar with a concept, pose questions to ensure accuracy and completeness of
- Use real models, tactile representations and objects for manipulation to support
verbal explanations of new concepts.
- Use cooperative education strategies to actively involve the student in group
- Discuss access to learning aids and equipment designed specifically for students
who are blind with a teacher of the visually impaired.
- Consult with an orientation and mobility specialist or teacher of the visually
impaired to arrange the classroom to ensure the student can move about safely
- Create an efficient system that will include desk space and a storage area for
technology, special equipment, materials and volumes of Braille textbooks.
- Implement strategies to ensure the student has access to visual materials
presented in various formats (e.g., bulletin boards, videos, software programs).
Implement strategies for getting notes presented during a lesson (e.g.,
electronic copy of notes, sharing notes recorded by a peer).
- Plan in advance the materials and resources that you will be using in daily
lessons. Ensure that they are available in the students' appropriate alternate
format at the same time as their sighted peers.
- Establish procedures to ensure the student has access to textbooks,
supplementary and teacher-made materials in Braille at the same time as peers
receive a print copy.
- Use descriptive words such as left and right, and avoid the use of vague terms,
such as "over here" or "this," when giving the student directions.
- Verbalize what is being written on the board, demonstrated to the class, or
happening in the class when nonverbal information is being provided (e.g., a
visitor enters the classroom, changes are made to the arrangement of the
- Provide additional time to complete assignments, if necessary.
Implications for Social and Emotional Well-being
>>> Parents know their children well and can offer insights on how to support
their social and emotional well-being. There is strength in collaborating on
strategies that could be used at home, at school and in the community.
- In collaboration with school team members, including the parents, implement
strategies to ensure the meaningful social inclusion of the student.
- Teach the student's classmates strategies to interact effectively with a peer
who is blind. Ensure they understand the implications of blindness on verbal and
- Provide both classroom and extracurricular opportunities for the student to
interact with peers and to develop friendships.
- Identify peers by name when responding to raised hands or when calling on
specific students to respond to questions. This allows the student who is blind
to learn to identify classmates by their voices.
- Based on observation and assessment of the student during social interactions,
provide instruction to address identified social skill needs and mastery of
age-appropriate social skills and behaviours. Some skills can be taught in a
group setting while others may require one-on-one instruction.
- Monitor the student's understanding of his or her strengths, areas of need and
ability to understand and respond to the perceptions of others.
- Teach self-advocacy skills and a "can do" attitude.
- Ensure the student has access to information and the supports needed to achieve
success in an activity.
- Investigate opportunities for the student to meet and interact with peers and
adult role models who are blind.
- Encourage independence by expecting the student to take the same level of
responsibility (that classmates have) for his or her learning.
- Respond to the student in a manner appropriate to the relevant age level and
performance expectations for the given age group. Communicating high
expectations to the student demonstrates your belief in and commitment to his or
- Provide opportunities for the student to complete classroom jobs and to help
peers. It is critical for the student to believe he or she can help, as well as
- Ensure there are both classroom and extracurricular activities where the student
who is blind can perform competently and meaningfully.
As you consider the implications for this disability, think about the following
- Do I need further conversations with the parents to better understand this
student's strengths and needs?
- Do I need targeted professional learning?
If yes, what specific topics and strategies would I explore?
- Is consultation with jurisdictional staff required?
If yes, what issues and questions would we explore?
- Is consultation with external service providers required (e.g., Regional
Educational Consulting Services, Student Health Partnership, Alberta Children's
Hospital, Glenrose Hospital)?
If yes, what issues and questions would we explore?
- Are further assessments required to assist with planning for this student?
If yes, what questions do I need answered?
- Is service to the student from an external provider required?
If yes, what outcomes would be anticipated?
Maria José Alegre